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Ga. court: Travel Web site shorting city on tax

  Tax  -   POSTED: 2009/06/16 14:35

The Georgia Supreme Court concluded Monday that the online travel company Expedia Inc. has shortchanged a west Georgia city on hotel and occupancy taxes.


The court's 4-3 ruling — the first such decision by Georgia's top appellate court — found that Expedia must collect hotel occupancy taxes from its customers and pay them to the city of Columbus.

An attorney representing Columbus said the ruling doesn't say whether Expedia owes back taxes, and said that issue may be decided by a lower court.

While the Georgia court's ruling doesn't apply to cases in other states, city attorneys say it could bring fresh momentum to dozens of other lawsuits around the country brought by frustrated officials who say the online travel scheme is depriving them of tax dollars.

"Decisions like this are persuasive if nothing else," said Wade Tomlinson, who represented the city of Columbus in the lawsuit. "Other courts will look at it, consider it and apply it."

Many similar complaints have been dismissed by federal or state judges, but attorneys say several are still pending, including lawsuits filed by officials or customers in Atlanta, Baltimore, San Antonio and a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Georgia cities. Similar complaints have also been filed in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Anaheim, Calif.

The lawsuits hinge on the complicated pricing schemes used by Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and other online travel sites.

When consumers make reservations at the sites, they pay more for a room than the online outfits pay the hotels for the room, allowing the online companies to pocket the difference.


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